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December 7, 2020

Disney+ to launch new series with deaf superhero

deaf superhero
Disney+ has announced the development of a new series, “Hawkeye,” which will feature a deaf superhero.

Based on the Marvel Comics character, the series features Hawkeye – with a twist. For the first time in a cinematic portrayal of the character, Hawkeye will be deaf and will wear hearing aids.

Hawkeye’s Hearing Loss

The upcoming Disney+ series with a deaf superhero is based on the comics of the same name. Fans of the Hawkeye character know that in the print version of Marvel Comics, Hawkeye first lost his hearing in 1982 when a sonic arrowhead blasted his eardrums. That detail was written out in later installments, but in 2014, it was reintroduced during a fight when a gunshot left Hawkeye with serious hearing damage.

Over the ensuing years, Hawkeye’s hearing loss has been on again, off again, even repairable. On screen, with no hearing loss, the character appeared in Thor. He then teamed up with the Captain America and Avengers franchises. Some of his colleagues possess superhuman abilities. But Hawkeye is portrayed at the peak of his human abilities, derived from rigorous training. He becomes a master archer, marksman, and acrobat with amazing strength and durability.

Disney+ Series With a Deaf Superhero

The Disney+ series will finally give Hawkeye his own starring vehicle. Actor Jeremy Renner – who is not deaf – is reprising the role of Clint Barton, otherwise known as Hawkeye, which he played in previous films.

This time, Hawkeye’s deafness will be an ongoing detail throughout the Disney+ series.

And Disney recently announced more characters/cast members. The list includes Echo, who is deaf. She lipreads but mostly signs responses. In the comics, Hawkeye sometimes interprets by speaking for her since the set of characters who know sign is limited. Her deafness is always portrayed as a characteristic, rather than a driving identity. Her Native American identify is more prevalent in the comics. She’ll be played by Alaqua Cox, about whom Nyle DiMarco tweeted that she’s Deaf and Native American.

A Three-Dimensional Hawkeye?

How authentic will Renner’s portrayal be of someone – much less a superhero – who is deaf if he is not? Renner is currently in physical training to get himself into superhero shape, but the fact that he is not deaf in real life has led some fans uneasy.

Will he will also be working with experts to learn how to accurately and sensitively depict someone who is deaf? Will Hawkeye be three-dimensional and give viewers a sense of his every day life above and beyond his superhero activities? How will he make the many adjustments that one who is deaf must make? How will he interact with others? Will his hearing loss interfere or assist his superhero activities? Through some cinematic magic, will he get his hearing back?

“How authentic will Renner’s portrayal be of someone – much less a superhero – who is deaf if he is not?”

No one knows the trajectory of the Disney+ characterization with the deaf superhero. If the past comic installments are any indication, Marvel has at least given Hawkeye a recognizable and relatable set of skills. They allow him to meet his challenges and make realistic responses to his fate. After suffering the tragedy of a sudden sensorineural hearing loss, Hawkeye pushes back. At first, he is unaccepting. He struggles to read lips, refuses to learn ASL, and descends into self-pity. Later, as his family and friends accept and support him as he is, Hawkeye begins to accept himself and learns ASL. In a compelling scene, Hawkeye takes his brother — who is in a wheelchair — to the roof of a building to help him communicate a message to his community – “I am deaf. Let’s talk.”

Marvel’s stance on accessibility

Marvel comics have been clear about their messaging to turn difficulties into empowerment according to EarQ magazine. Nevertheless, if there is any “curing” or repairing of Hawkeye’s hearing, it might not sit well with the d/Deaf community. The “curing” of a disability to deny or lessen it has long been recognized as insulting and demeaning to those with disabilities.

That said, the superhero universe has been populated with disabled, blind, war- wounded, and others who have overcome their challenges to become superheroes.

More Authentic Characters are Needed

Activists hope to see more actors with hearing loss on screen portraying characters with hearing loss and not just stars standing in for them.

Does the portrayal of a deaf superhero by a non-deaf actor diminish the story and the messaging? If the character that Jeremy Renner portrays on screen is authentic, it still might successfully illustrate what life is really like for those who are deaf and HOH.

It won’t just be a fantastic imagining that employs deafness as a device to give the deaf superhero a provocative edge. This has often been the case when deafness appears in a movie.

Read more: How to tell your deaf story for the world to see and hear

Diversity and Inclusion in TV and movies

Disney’s take on Hawkeye is also be in step with the Oscars’ new diversity and inclusion initiative that encourages Hollywood’s movers and shakers to recognize and employ people with disabilities on screen and behind the scenes.

Read more: Accessibility and visibility for people with disabilities in Hollywood

Production is due to begin in January, 2021, with a release date some time in 2022.

Stu Nunnery
Author Details
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, musician, composer, actor and activist. In 2013 he began a years-long journey to return to making music after a bilateral hearing loss ended a successful career forty-five years ago. Taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, auditory training and vocal work, he resumed performing in 2017 and made his first new recording in 2018. Recently, Stu also completed a screenplay about his musical journey. A graduate of Princeton University, Stu has studied piano, voice, acting, improvisation and public speaking. He is a member of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, and for his activism, is a Phonak “hEARo” and a “HearStrong Champion.”
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Stu Nunnery
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, musician, composer, actor and activist. In 2013 he began a years-long journey to return to making music after a bilateral hearing loss ended a successful career forty-five years ago. Taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, auditory training and vocal work, he resumed performing in 2017 and made his first new recording in 2018. Recently, Stu also completed a screenplay about his musical journey. A graduate of Princeton University, Stu has studied piano, voice, acting, improvisation and public speaking. He is a member of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, and for his activism, is a Phonak “hEARo” and a “HearStrong Champion.”
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